Monterey County's outdoor appeal lies both on land and at sea. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is an aquatic playground for scuba divers, kayakers, sailors, anglers and surfers.
Landlubbers, too, have plenty of places to indulge their adventurous instincts, whether it's mountain biking at Fort Ord Public Lands, hiking to a natural hot spring in Big Sur's Los Padres National Forest, rock climbing at Pinnacles National Monument, or camping at one of the West Coast's top camp sites, located at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
Sample many of Monterey County's most popular outdoor activities with this jam-packed three-day itinerary.
You've scored one of the top camp sites on the Pacific Coast, and you're not going to waste any time getting there! Though your campsite is at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, check in is at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, 12 miles north of your destination. You won't be able to check in until 2pm; you're here early to squeeze in a little hike before setting up camp.
Park at the day-use parking area up the hill, then find the signed trailhead for the Valley View trail. Follow the trail first toward the left to the Valley Overlook, which has a breathtaking view from below of Pfeiffer Falls and the surrounding redwoods.
This hike isn't just a beautiful view; it's also a lesson in nature's ability to recover. The original viewing platform above the falls was destroyed in 2008's catastrophic Basin Complex fire. Several rainy seasons, as well as the hard work of State Park employees, have brought the park back to its original natural beauty.
As you hike back, first follow the trail straight ahead across the intersection. You'll soon reach a lookout with sweeping views of the Point Sur headlands and the Big Sur river valley.
Your rugged hike-in campsite at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is perched in the cypress grove above the famous McWay Falls. Only two spots are available, and they're normally reserved six months in advance. You'll have to carry your gear from your car a quarter mile to the site, but it's well worth it! Tonight, the crashing waterfall and lapping ocean waves will lull you to sleep.
You could dine on campfire grub - or you could have dinner at a Big Sur landmark with views that are just as stunning as those from your campsite. Nepenthe, just a few miles north of your campsite on the west side of Highway One, is known for its "Ambrosia Burger." Don't worry, vegetarians, there's plenty of menu items for you too!
Get back to your campsite in time for a stunning, postcard-ready view of the sun setting over the ocean. Afterwards, you'll be treated to one of the most stunningly starry skies in the continental United States.
The sun is up, and so are you! After soaking in the view from your magnificent campsite, it's time for a short hike. If you haven't already done so, take the McWay Falls Overlook trail to gaze at the 80-foot waterfall that pours down from the granite cliffs you've been camping near.
Then either hike or drive 2 miles north of the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to a gated fire road on the west side of Highway One. Don't be surprised if you see scuba divers parked and gearing up; you're on your way to Big Sur's top scuba-diving spot.
Leave your car and follow the fire road a third of a mile to an information kiosk. You can either take a spur to your left to Partington Creek, or follow the main trail to your right. The main trail will split again, bringing you across a bridge to Partington Cove or straight to a solitary beach.
On your way to Partington Cove, you'll pass through a 60-foot tunnel through the rock. Back in the 1880s, this was a busy thoroughfare. This tunnel was built to transport oak trees forested in Big Sur to the cove, from which they were shipped to the rest of the world.
Deetjen's Restaurant in Big Sur, seven miles north of your campsite, has been serving breakfast to hungry travelers since 1939. You may have already heard about Deetjen's eggs Benedict from the people at the other campsite at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the divers you ran into earlier, or someone at Nepenthe; they're the stuff of legend in this area.
Sadly, it's time to start packing up. Say farewell to your campsite, but don't worry - there's more adventure ahead!
Drive up Highway One to Andrew Molera State Park and find a parking spot, then break out the mountain bikes. Directly across from Andrew Molera's entrance is what was once the main road into Big Sur, the Old Coast Road.
This dirt road, 10.5 miles each way, goes through redwood groves, along ridgelines and through valleys, and has some spectacular coastal views along the way. It'ss considered one of the top mountain biking routes in Big Sur. You'll climb 3,000 feet along the way. Make sure you've brought plenty of water and packed a snack to enjoy at your turnaround point, Bixby Bridge!
Tonight, set up your tent at a laid-back campsite surrounded by trees that's only a mile from downtown Monterey. Veteran's Memorial Park is one of Monterey's best-kept secrets. It has sweeping views of Monterey Bay and a secluded feel, yet it's a short stroll to downtown's great marine activities.
If you're not in the mood for a cookout, stroll or bike down the hill and along the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail to Massaro & Santos on the Coast Guard Pier. This local favorite offers seafood pulled fresh from the ocean, as well as Monterey Bay views.
Not ready to go to bed just yet? On your way back to your campsite, stop for a drink in downtown Monterey. Drink up with a beer brewed on-site at Peter B's, catch up on sports at Characters Sports Bar and Grill at the Monterey Marriott, or enjoy a British pint and some deep-fried artichokes at The Crown and Anchor or a craft cocktail at Montrio Bistro.
The sun is up, and you probably heard the peppy notes of Reveille from the Presidio, located just a few blocks from your campsite. Enjoy breakfast at your tent, or head down the hill to the Wild Plum Café & Bakery for an organic breakfast burrito, frittata, or some whole grain waffles.
You've hiked and biked in view of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary; now it's time to play on the water. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is the oceanic equivalent of the Grand Canyon, and it's been preserved by the U.S. for people to enjoy. Sign on for a kayak tour of Monterey Bay with Monterey Bay Kayaks or Adventures by the Sea. They'll provide the gear, including kayaks, paddling jackets and lifejackets. Make sure to wear water shoes and light clothes; you will probably get wet!
Breakfast was a long time ago! Replenish your muscles with award-winning clam chowder at a Fisherman's Wharf restaurant with a great view of the ocean. Old Fisherman's Grotto has been a Fisherman's Wharf dining staple for 60 years. The multiple awards it won for its clam chowder in 2010 (from both the Monterey Wine Festival and the Monterey County Weekly Reader's Choice Awards) show that it only gets better with age.
Before you head home, take in astounding views of Monterey Bay with a short hike through Jacks Peak County Park, just off Highway 68. Park in the top parking area next to the Skyline Nature Trail. This trail leads around the top of Jacks Peak.
Over the course of your mile-long hike, you'll take in fantastic views all the way across the bay to Santa Cruz, and south to Point Lobos and across Carmel Valley. If you have your binoculars with you, you might just catch glimpses of miles of hiking trails in Garland Ranch Regional Park, Fort Ord Public Lands and Point Lobos State Natural Reserve that you haven't yet explored. Mark them down. Monterey County is waiting for your next visit!